Every follower of Jesus knows that humility is important. It’s cliché even to talk about it. We hear about it all the time from spiritual leaders and read about it in the books they write.

Yeshua taught about it, too. Humility even made it into the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the meek [or humble], for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

It’s easy for us to assume that we’ve heard it all before and that there’s nothing new for us to learn about humility. I felt that way, too, before I started studying musar literature. Now I know that most people would have a hard time even properly defining the word “humility,” much less putting this trait into serious practice.

What Is Humility?

Let’s take a quick look at how some of the most famous teachers of musar defined humility. We’ll start with Bachya ibn Paquda, who wrote the following in his masterpiece, Duties of the Heart:

Humility is the soul’s sense of lowliness, its acquiescence, and its lack of self-importance. It is one of the qualities of the soul and, when internalized, comes to expression externally in the form of gentle speech, a soft voice, meekness when angered, and restraint in taking revenge when one has the power to exact it.

The Ways of the Righteous offers a similar definition:

And what is humility? It is self-effacement and lowliness of spirit and regarding oneself as naught. A man is obligated at all times and on every occasion to be unworthy in his own eyes, and lowly of spirit, and soft of heart, and broken spirited.

Yeshua used a different tactic: He described pride and arrogance and told his disciples to embrace the opposite:

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave. (Matthew 20:25-27)